Hanover (Hannover) Court Records

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For a comprehensive understanding of court records, study the article Germany Census.

Hanover (Hannover) Court Records[edit | edit source]

Death certificates issued by the Landdrostei (government office) Hildesheim[edit | edit source]

In February of 1818 a decree issued by the Kingdom of Hanover declared that soldiers who went missing and were not heard of after five years could be declared dead. A summons was issued and if after one year there was still no response, the death was made legal.

The problem of legal death issues did not just pertain to soldiers but was extended to other situations. For ordinary citizens the rule was that after a person had gone missing, a declaration of death could not be enforced until the person concerned was 70 years old. For all practical purposes this was too long of a waiting period. Therefore, the government re-considered such cases and determined that for instance, people who embarked by ship and then went missing should be pronounced dead after three years if no news of them was forthcoming. Soon other cases had to be considered.

By May 1848 the law issued the following rules: A legal death pronouncement was given when after 10 years no credible news about the person was forthcoming. In case of minors it was 15 years or otherwise 10 years upon attaining majority. An application had to be handed in by relatives or guardians and the truth of no forthcoming news about the person had to be sworn to. After the law about missing persons was pronounced, thousands of cases had to be articulated. Such cases also involved emigrants, especially those bound for North America. In 1850 the general postal service declared that 17,500 letters stamped in the Kingdom of Hanover and sent to America since 1847 had been returned as undeliverable.

Court orders concerning missing persons and death certificates were published in a so called “Amtsblatt” (official publication). For the district of Hildesheim, Wilhelm van Kempen published names of persons who appeared as legally dead. Not only were their names given, but birth information as well as parents’ names became available. Again, the names are pertaining to the area of the Landdrostei Hildesheim only.

Norddeutsche Familienkunde, 14th., 15th, and 16th issues of years 1965, 1966, and 1967, starting page 322 pp. This periodical is available through the Family History Library Salt Lake City, Utah.call number 943.5 B2nf

Brandkataster (fire insurance)[edit | edit source]

In 1666 a devastating fire destroyed most dwellings of the inner city of London. This disaster sparked
lively interest in England to establish fire insurance companies in the cities. People lived closely together and the likelihood of several houses being destroyed in case of fire was great. When property was extinguished by fire, usually permission from the magistrate was issued to beg for food and building materials (Brandbettel, Bettelbrief) to rebuild. However, destructions in the magnitude of the London Fire would wipe out more resources than could be afforded to give. Hence, an interest in fire insurance awakened.

What worked for England was soon established in other cities, for instance, Hamburg, Germany. Here beer brewers vowed to help each other in case of destruction by fire. This way, all had a fairer chance to rebuild.

In the 1790s officials in Calenberg discussed the possibility to insure people in rural areas against fire. The idea was eventually adopted, spread over all the Kingdom of Hanover (1814-1866) and the rest of Germany. Every participating property owner was issued a plaque, which was fastened to his house indicating insurance and designating location, since most villages had no street names. In a register the insurance company listed each owner’s buildings and their value. If one owner sold his property or died, the next owner’s name was listed.

For the family researcher the Brandkataster of Hanover are yet another way to establish an ancestor’s identity . The books (Haupt- und Nebenkataster) are divided among the 5 Regierungsbezirke (administrative districts) of Prussian Hanover (Lauenburg is included). The names of the Regierungsbezirke and their subdivisions with a time frame is listed on FHL Film# 1799016 item 2, then follows a register ( A-Z) to facilitate a search. (Example: Achim is listed with numbers 743, 744 etc.) Going back to the previous list and looking up numbers 743 and 744 explains the following: The records for Amt Achim belong to the Regierungsbezirk Stade and can be found in the main book (Hauptkataster) vol. 1 and 2 covering the time frame 1876-1902. To locate the actual records, the FamilySearch Catalog has to be checked under “Hanover, Harburg Court Records, Brandkataster”. Each entry shows the word “Akten”, followed by numbers. Amt Achim’s numbers are contained in “Akten 740-747” on International Film 1800395 (Vault). Checking film 1800395 yields a listing of villages. The fire insured owners are registered here.

To determine which village belongs to what Regierungsbezirk, please consult Meyers Orts- and Verkehrslexikon  Each village of the German Reich (1871-1933) is listed here with a reference to the responsible district
(Regierungsbezirk = RB)

Ehestiftungen (prenuptial agreements)[edit | edit source]

The Family History LIbrary Catalog lists prenuptials under Hanover- Court Records (keyword search: Ehestiftungen). In the case of the Dannenberg Amtsgericht (lower court) these records cover the time period 1542-1850; for the court of Pyrmont 1732-1888. These records can be of great interest to the family historian, since they contain pertinent information and could fill in details that cannot be obtained through church or civil registration records.

The Council of Trent (1545) decreed a marriage to be performed before a priest and two witnesses. Whereas before two families and their witnesses came together to discuss the terms of a marriage between their children, it was now determined that such negotiations had to be performed before officials and be recorded. The couple would then receive a permit (Ehezettel) to present to the local priest in order to get married. This new directive served several purposes: A written statement would make it easier to identify problems with dowry claims since these could be demanded in some cases years after the marriage was performed. Written statements about intended marriages gave officials more control over land ownership. This was also of interest to the manor lord. After all, his economical wellbeing was at stake, and he could not agree to a union that would lower the productivity of a farm. Even if a manor lord was to give his consent for a marriage, he only agreed to an acquisition of a farm if the parents would go into retirement. To even further monitor the acreage and the profitability of a farm, a daughter could not bring more than a limited amount of money into the marriage for fear to encumber the farm of her parents with heavy debts. If conditions allowed for a larger marriage portion, the officials would let such arrangements pass through. 

If couples had nothing to record, they still had to appear before the officials to register their intentions of marriage, so they could receive their certificate to present to the priest.

There was no rigid form to a prenuptial agreement. The requirements were generally known. The official’s style was more or less elaborate in recording details. Usually the official knew the candidates and their economic status. If a “foreigner” was called to the position of Amtmann (official), there could be problems with familiarity , especially in spelling of family names. If the the official was away on business, the scribe had to deal with the daily workflow. He, however, could not make decisions in weighty matters, and a couple was obliged to wait for the Amtmann’s return in order to get on with their marriage arrangements.

Prenuptial agreements contained more than just stating conditions for an economically secured marriage between a man and a woman. Usually, the retirement arrangements of parents or the usage of acreage and claims of other heirs to the farm were part of the plans. Thus, the genealogist can identify family relationships, places of residence, ages, birth places, whether the bride or groom were married before and whether they had children from the previous marriage. A detailed list of the bride’s and groom’s dowry will give clues about property and economical status. Besides this information, the contract will divulge the future residence of the couple and it will give the name of witnesses, who could be relatives.

After all these arrangements had been made a couple sometimes would not get married after all. Such cases could be mentioned by the Amtmann. In case of doubt, the church records should be perused.

Source: Sturm-Heumann, Margarete „Die Eheberedungen des Amts Stadthagen“ Staatsarchiv Bückeburg 2004, vol. 1-2

To determine the jurisdiction of a court, please refer to Meyers Orts- und Verkehrslexikon (Each village of the German Reich (1871-1933) is listed here with a reference to the responsible lower court = AG) as it existed in 1912.

Schuldbücher (debt registers)[edit | edit source]

The German law differentiates between several types of debtors. The Gemeinschuldner or debitor communis is a person against whom many creditors have a claim. Such a person is also known as Cridarius or Gantmann. Usually he/she has no further rights to property and every transaction made is viewed as null and void. A Gemeinschuldner has to be heard about each claim.
Another type of debtor is called abgetretener Schuldner or debitor cessus. A creditor can without permission and knowledge of the debtor transfer aclaim to a third party according to regulations.
The assignirte Schuldner or debitor assignatus’ debt can be transferred to a creditor’s creditor, who in return can demand payment from the assignirte Schuldner and count this amount as acquittal. In case the creditor’s creditor cannot obtain satisfactory payment, the claim stands as originally created.
The ganz verschuldete Schuldner or debitor obaeratus is the person who has more debt than he/she can cover. The person is still in charge of his/her property as long as he/she is not silenced by the authorities. A transaction between such a person and a creditor is viewed as fraudulent and the creditor can take back his property. He has the Absonderungsrecht (law of separation). Furthermore, there are debitores expliciti, persons which are listed by names in a Schuldbuch or Schuldregister as Schuldpost (a specific claim of a debtor). Debitores impliciti are debtors who are listed by their creditors, however, sum, time and place, when, where and how much are not mentioned. Debitor principalis is the person who made an investment for his own use. Debitor cambialis is the one who issued a promissory note. A debitor morosus is the debtor who avoids payment at the appointed time or refrains from payment. The debitor fugitives is the type of debtor who changes residence to avoid detention. Such a person can be put on a wanted list. A debitor de fuga suspectus, is a debtor with no possessions, who has been reminded of his debt often, who has not paid his obligation, who has been given a time limit and not honored it, who sells things above price, who lives a squander’s life style, of whom one can assume that he will vanish. Calamitosi debitores are those debtors, who through ship wreckage, fire, robbery and other disasters have lost their property. They are treated with clemency and propriety, while those who are to blame for the loss of their property cannot receive an extension of payment.

Source: J. G. Krünitz, Oekonomische Encyklopädie.

Some debt registers for Hanover are available through www.familysearch.org , Family History Catalog, Keyword Search: Schuldregister. Films can be ordered through the Familysearch Research Center network.

Flurnamen (field names)[edit | edit source]

It was in the interest of manor lords and their subordinate farmers to know the borders of each individual piece of farmland and other communal lands. As the residents interacted with each other, the land divided into Flurnamen became an important part of daily business deals. Flurnamen appeared in border disputes, land sales, inheritances, property taxes and land consolidations (Verkopplung). Flurnamen may help resolve cases of plural nature, i.e., when community members share the same name or professions. Flurmnamen may help identify property issues. In ancient times Flurnamen were transmitted orally or appeared in dialect form before they were officially documented in Flurbücher. Herein the properties of a village with their borders were listed. The Flurbuch was otherwise known as Flurregister, Lagerbuch, Jordebuch, Markungsbuch or Dorfbuch.

Before 1850 when land consolidations (Verkopplung) took place in German areas, the Flurbuch was the source to consult if exact measurements of a Dorfflur was needed. For instance, it is possible to trace all owners of farms in the county of Rotenburg for at least 200 years in their so called Jordebuch. (If interested, the book "Die Jordebücher des Kreises Rotenburg 1692/94" by H. Miesner is available through familysearch.org Family History Catalog, call number 943.59/R1 R29m.

To learn more about Flurnamen see http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flurname This text is written in German. For a rough translation highlight the URL and copy it. Then paste it in Google language tools, clicking on “translate a website”, choose German to English

Weinkaufprotokolle[edit | edit source]

When a farmer took over a property, he had to pay a tribute, the inheritance tax. In older records in Hanover (1690s) it can be repeatedly read "hat anno...verweinkaufft" which means nothing else than the taking over of the farm. It is believed that a shift of vowel sounds is the reason why "Hof gewonnen" and "Hoffwinnungsgeld" and "Winnkopp" finally ended up in the word "Weinkauf". Purchasing property had nothing to do with Wein (wine). Certain amounts of money was paid as is apparent from the Weinkaufprotokolle of the Amt Esens.

Also, a Weinkauf could take place by candle light (Kerzenkauf).  A sort of auction took place when property was to be sold. A candle was lit, bidders gave their offers and before the candle went out a "Treckgeld" was established. Treckgeld was a sort of bribe for people to bid. The Treckgeld would be paid when bidding started to slow down and no one wanted to bid any higher. 


Die Jordebücher des Kreises Rotenburg 1692-94 by H. Miesner, Verlag Schelper, Rotenburg/Hanover, 1938   

Weinkauf Esens 1701-1743 by Arbeitsgruppe Familienkunde und Heraldik in der Ostfriesischen Landschaft zu Aurich, Verlag Ostfriesische Landschaft Aurich, 1966

Stadtbuch (administrative record of a city)[edit | edit source]

A Stadtbuch is a city record of the medieval time period in Germany. It contains documents of various content, such as statutes and privileges of a city. It contains legal procedures, legal endorsements and contracts. The oldest city records were created in the northern parts of Germany. The records were written down by clerks who operated in behalf of the city council, therefore making the documents legal. At first the Stadtbuch contained everything in a mixed order, by and by subject matters were organized into their own books. Council matters were separated from business deals between citizens, such as land records and prenuptials. Court records and verdicts became separated from non contentious legal matters. The incoming and outgoing correspondence had its own book etc.

The Stadtbuch allows a closer look into the lives and businesses of citizens in the medieval time period. Legal, political and social structures give the family researcher a better understanding of ancestors' circumstances.

Some copies of Stadtbücher for Hanover can be retrieved through www.familysearch.org Family History Catalog, call number 943.59 N2u.

Patrimonialgerichtsbarkeit (personal estate courts) in the Kingdom of Hanover[edit | edit source]

The Electorate of Hanover was divided into three kinds of personal estate courts. 1. Ämter (administrations of the sovereign), 2. cities with their surrounding areas, 3. the courts of nobles (Patrimonialgerichte). Administrative matter and court matters were not recorded separately. The Amtmann (official for the sovereign) resided over administrative as well as judicial matters. The same was true for city administrators and the manor lords, consisting of nobility (Adel or Rittergutsbesitzer). They had jurisdiction over the people living within their administrative boundaries. At least 50 families belonged to a manor farm (Lat.: patrimonium).
Patrimonial courts existed since medieval times. The sovereign (king or emperor) granted land or villages to his knights who rendered faithful service. Often these new landowners also received administrative rights including jurisdiction. Often manor lords achieved further public rights such as police authority, taxing privileges, traffic rights, inviolable precincts rights, such as how many mills were allowed, how much beer or wine was to be produced, who was allowed to graze sheep, who was allowed to hunt or fell trees etc. All these were jurisdictions of the state which became private law executed by certain families who passed it on to posterity as salable property and privileges.
Not all patrimonial courts had the same rights. Sometimes a manor lord was not a nobleman and therefore, had lesser privileges. In Hanover, the difference lies in geschlossene and ungeschlossene Gerichte (closed and open courts).
If a manor lord had the ability to also be a judge, he was able to execute legal mattes himself. If he was not able to do so, he installed a professional, the Amtmann, Amtsassessor (judicial officials) or he transferred the right to an official in the next town, the mayor or a lawyer.
After the Kingdom of Westphalia was returned to the English king, the feudal system with nobility predominance was re-established. This was possible because the ruler lived in England, and he let the nobility take care of the governance in Hanover. Therefore, the Patrimonialgerichtsbarkeit was already in operation again in 1814. In 1821 some reforms occurred which brought the following improvements:
Spread-out courts were united, each village had one court system, private or sovereign based. The court was allowed self-governance; however, the official in charge was not allowed to represent himself. The official also had to undergo an examination to test his ability as judge if he had not already proven himself. He had to be sworn in. The installment of a judge had to be reported to the respective ministerial office which then had the privilege to refuse the chosen candidate. A judge could be replaced by permission of the ministerial office.
In the 1830s a great many courts were transferred over to sovereign offices (Ämter). The process was slow because in 1838 there were still 88 private courts. After 1848 the conversion was accelerated. In 1852 most officials of patrimonial courts had abdicated their privileges to the state.

Knocke, Horst. Als der Grundherr noch Richter war in Landes-Zeitung.de
Werthmann, Sabine. Vom Ende der Patrimonialsgerichtsbarkeit. Frankfurt am Main, 1995

Feudal records (Lehnsbücher) of the Church[edit | edit source]

The Catholic Church was owner of vast amounts of land which were leased through bishops. Knights, citizens and craftsmen as well as free farmers were beneficiaries of land purchases, ranging from manors to cottages. All ranks and classes were involved except the rural serfs. All purchases were recorded since the middle of the 1300s. Die Mittelalterlichen Lehnsbücher der Bischöfe von Osnabrück is a compilation of names of those who were involved in land purchases from 1350-1532. The book lists the Bishops during whose administration the records were formed. The text is in Latin and German. The book was published through Historischer Verein Osnabrück in Osnabrücker Geschichtsquellen vol. 5, 1932. The volume is available through www.familysearch.org FamilySearch Catalog, International Film number 1181620 item 3.